Lester McClain and the Bear – IV

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For more on that which lead to this, see Lester McClain and the Bear I, II, & III.

On Saturday, October 5th Lester awoke to the golden shimmer of autumn sunlight sparkling on the turning Aspen leaves. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he focused on a scene that secured in his still foggy mind the notion that he was indeed still asleep. Dillon, the barkeep, stood just outside the picture window smoking a morning cigarette. Shash stood towering over the kitchen counter pouring himself a cup of steaming hot coffee, and the enormous Grizzly bear sat in the corner of the kitchen. The bear appeared to be deep in thought.

“Coffee bear?” Shash asked, lifting his cup to pantomime the offer. The bear blinked then nodded his head to the affirmative. Lester watched still uncertain of the whole situation as Shash carefully held out the cup. The sweet scent of Dillon’s cigarette made it’s way through the slightly open kitchen door, sharpening Lester’s foggy morning senses. The bear, not having opposable thumbs reached for the steaming cup with both paws. As the mug hit his pads, he growled disapprovingly. Shash held up a finger, “try this,” he pulled a short stool close and set the mug on it. “Give it a minute to cool down; it’s hot!” The bear leaned in and assessed the steam rising from the mug. Shash raised his hand, “hold on.” He crossed the kitchen, floorboard creaking desperately under his weight. He opened the ancient Frigidaire and removed two glistening ice cubes. He returned to bear who sat transfixed, mesmerized by the swirling mist emanating from the coffee. “Let this sit for a second,” he said gently releasing the cubes into the cup. The bear watched as the cubes slowly disintegrated in the black liquid. Once Shash gave him the nod he lapped at the coffee. Lester was sure that he saw the bear’s eyes widen followed by what appeared to be a rarely seen Ursa grin.

Dillon entered from the deck in a hallow of smoke just in time to hear Lester’s first words of the day which were, “What the fuck is going on? How’d you get in here?” And finally with to tone of near hysterical exasperation, “Is that a real bear?”

“Hey Les,” said Dillon, “top o’ the morning!”

“Yes,” said Shash, apparently taking the questions in reverse order. “He is a real bear. As to how we go in, I used the keep you keep under the fake rock by the garage. As to what’s going on…let’s say that we are friends here to lend a hand.”

“Is there any more coffee?” Dillon asked.

“Plenty,” Shash offered. “Grab a mug.”

As Dillon made his way across the worn pine board floor to the cupboard, Lester sat upright on his couch-bed-thing and once again rubbed his eyes to ensure that they were not playing tricks on him.

“Lend a hand?” Lester grunted, his tone both indignant and curious.

The bear eyed him for a moment the lapped at his coffee.

“Yes Lester, we are here to lend a hand. Coffee?” Shash motioned to the pot.

“Please,” said Les slowly swinging his legs to the floor and making to stand. The bear watched him closely and again appeared to be smiling, which was an odd, almost disconcerting look for a bear.

“We’ve been paying attention to your situation,” said Shash. “Dillon brought you up to me back in the Spring after seeing you at the bar every night. He mentioned that…”

“Dillon seemed terrified of you that night!” Lester interrupted. “Now you’re in cahoots?”

Shash and the bear growled in unison. “Dillon seamed ‘terrified’ because he had taken something of mine without asking and was concerned that I would grape-squash his head over it. Needless to say, we settled that matter with his melon intact. He is my nephew after all, and blood is thicker than…stuff.”

“Oh,” Les wrapped his index and middle finger around the handle of a chipped white porcelain mug in the cupboard and turned to the coffee pot. “And the bear? Is he your kin too?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Shash said raising his cup and taking a long pull. He looked over at the bear who was wrestling his mug with both paws licking the last drops of coffee with his long bear tongue.

“And what manner of speaking would that be?” Lester barked.

“He’s my brother.” Shash offered matter of factly.

“From another mother?” Les chuckled, clearly proud of himself for knowing something the kids might-maybe say when presented with a similar situation.

“Same mother,” Dillon offered, “Do you have any breakfast food? Bread, eggs, bacon perhaps?

Les was not feeling okay about this situation. Unlike in the movies where weird shit happens, and the protagonist somehow assimilates it and takes it in stride, he was clear on the fact that this, the bear, in particular, was not normal.

“Ah, yes.”  He groaned.  Rubbed his throbbing forehead, he stammered, “Bread is in the cupboard to the right of the sink. Bacon and eggs in the left bottom drawer in the Fridge.”

“Lester,” Shash began, “It’s time we had a chat.”

The bear looked up from his coffee, locked eyes with Les and nodded in agreement.

To be continued

#fiction

Old Friends

UCSB boys 2Left to right: Steve Van Beek, Kevin Farenkopf, Paul Escoll, Dr. David Gyepes, Your’s Truly, Andy Logan, & Daryl Landy.  (c.2001)

These days most things can be had with the well-ordered strike of a few keystrokes.  They usually arrive within seconds digitally or a few days by truck, perhaps a week if there are shipping complications.  Jobs can be found, romance born, business relationships forged in the ether of our modern internet biome.  All these ‘friends,’ ‘likes,’ ‘followers’ add up to…Something I suppose.  However, no thing or connection that can be had so immediately compares with the feeling of finding oneself in the company of old friends.

Enduring relationships are created and perpetuated via the practices of patience, commitment, forgiveness, and a healthy dose of introspection.  Old friends know us, often better than we know ourselves.  They watch us break, and aid us when they are able in the process of picking up the pieces.  They share our triumphs and offer a shoulder when we need a place to lean.  

If you have old friends, you are blessed.  If you have lost touch with someone you once held dear our modern world offers ample opportunity to reconnect.  Few things on the average to do list can provide such reward.  Some say that real connection is a dying art.  Fortunately other say that history is cyclical.  Wherever you find yourself on this wheel of life I wish you peace, love, and enduring friendships.  In the words of Clarence the Angel, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

The Crushing

The Crush rev2

Sometimes things feel so spot on, so figured out.  Other times things feel so fucked!  Honesty is both beautiful and ugly, so here we go.  Glass half full, glass half empty, glass whatever until shit hits the fan.  You’ve had a bad day right?  You’ve had some good ones too?  I’ve had both and can unequivocally offer my opinion of the difference between them; I don’t dig the darkness.  It’s easy for me to be up when I’m fortunate enough to awaken on the right side of the bed, if something truly wonderful has happened in my life, or if I have an audience to entertain.  It’s also easy for me to find the shadows when the hall is empty, or the vicissitudes of fate choose a game of random misery.

Spirit, soul, perspective, blow with the wind when no one is looking.  We’ve all likely found darkness shrouding our path at some point.  We’ve also probably been fortunate enough to know lightness.  I experience both in a relatively favorable measure, but today it is the darkness that accompanies me as I make my way.  Odd that a life I feel to be so fortunate should seem so dismal at this moment.  History tells me it will pass.  And thank god!  A funny expression emanating my lips “Thank god,” as I do not currently ascribe to conventional western religious doctrine.  Still, I feel it, the meaning of “Thank god,” balls to bones because I have faith.  Faith not in books, nor figureheads, but in “It!”  The “It” that binds us all together in this life.

How are your dark days?  Mine are daunting.  Sometimes I feel fearful in my solitude.  Afraid that I will fail those I love.  Worried that I will fail me!  Ha, shouldn’t I have included myself in the numbers of the former?  How will I fail?  By not showing up, not delivering the promise of optimism and perseverance to which I have committed?

Depression is the antichrist to hopeful endeavor, and some days when I feel it’s weight bearing down on me I find no solace, no sense of possibility for escape.  For context, I do not suffer from the type of debilitating depression that some struggle with.  Fortune smiles on my brain chemistry in that regard.  I am talking about run of the mill, “get over yourself” feelings of depression.  The emotional state one simply has to face, and vanquish.

It is to a great extent the way in our culture to have ears only for, “Fine” or “Great thanks,” in response to the question, “How are you?”  Who has time for the real answer right?  To avoid pariah status, when I find my soul cloaked in crushing darkness I lie, “Doing well, thanks.  You?”  Perhaps being born in the United States where the concept of “Rugged Individualism” is a historical cornerstone, this automatic response is coded into my DNA.  Though from what I’ve read, Rugged Individualism is a walk in the park relative to the DNA encoding that the English have saddled themselves with!  Interestingly, my genealogy leads in no small way to that tight-lipped isle of rain-soaked woe.  Not super surprising that an occasional down day should find me.

Today I listened to a Tim Ferris Show podcast featuring the renowned psychologist Jack Kornfield.  Jack’s career began in the jungles of Thailand where in his twenties while serving with the peace corp he decided to become a Buddhist monk.  As he explained, it was a painful but enlightening (pun intended) journey that lead him to new perspectives on self, self-hatred, and self-love, compassion, and empathy.  I bring this up because his words struck me hard.  Hard as in repeated blows of a mighty love hammer.  Multiple times while listening I spontaneously began to weep.  Something in his message hit trigger points over and over again.  This experience crescendoed during his closing comments which left me clutching my heart, crying full voice on the futon in the family room.  Futon?  What am I, a college student?  Whatever!

Jack’s wisdom and his message of loving-kindness (insert “snowflake quip here) touched me deeply.  It afforded me a window through which I saw metaphorical rays of sunlight.  The darkness that had enveloped me for the last few days seemed to cower and then diminish.  Tim’s conversation with Jack somehow pierced the black veil of my personal manifestation of Rugged Individualism.  It reminded me that we are not, or do not have to choose to remain alone in our struggles.  Jack’s words reasserted the possibility of choosing to breach the norm of, “I’m fine.”  The chance to reach for connection, and more importantly offer connection, with compassion to those we find wrapped in the solitary binds of darkness.

If you struggle alone with your demons, you can share that burden.  You have options.  Check out Jack’s thoughts on the subject via the link provided below.  Write a comment.  Please share your story.  Together we are strong enough to shed light on the darkness.  Together we can create brilliance!

Tim Ferriss Show: Jack Kornfield episode:

 

 

 

The​ Patience Cat

The Patience Cat

The patience cat came to stay on an unusually warm Saturday in late July. She was accompanied by two siblings who clearly regarded her as the least significant of their clan. The serial cat rescuers we acquired these new family members from defined her as the runt of the litter. Funny word for living things, “litter!” Kittens come into the world in one, cats relieve themselves in it, and humans prone to indiscretion cast it from the windows of speeding cars along the highways of America as a malevolent gift to society at large. Anyway, the three kittens, two silver tabby girls and one-half tabby, half polished polar bear boy crawled tentatively over the edge of their cardboard limo to explore the new world. “Ugh, linoleum,” thought the patience cat at first touch, what have we gotten ourselves into?

Interestingly that was also one of my first thoughts when I bought the place. That said, Linoleum is an amazing substance, tackiness notwithstanding. No offense meant to lovers of the flooring option. It (linoleum) is an amazingly forgiving, and down-the-road money-saving choice. For instance, when the 1970’s fridge that came with this fossilized house offers up a couple of quarts of “where the hell did that water come from” around its base, or one of the cats yacks their morning kibble and half the lawn on it, its cool. Linoleum saves the day via its impermeable countenance. A few rags or paper towels solve the problem, and no one has to lose sleep over absorbency.  Excellent! The fact that someone actually gets paid to create the god-awful designs featured on most plastic flooring products must rank high among god’s jokes, but I digress?

As human children grow up their personalities being to emerge, or if their ways of being have been made clear early on, they magnify. The Patience Cat was no exception. Being a firstborn myself, by many years actually, (only child until I was six), I can’t imagine what it must be like to be the weakest among seven born within twenty minutes. In the litter arena, I imagine getting food, let alone parental nurturing has a gladiatorial survival essence about it. So yes, she was slight of build, to put it mildly.  In fact, she looked like a bobblehead. That said, unlike many of her kind, she survived. In her little cat way, she found footing in a loving home and made a place for herself, possibly due to the three, well-distanced food bowl placement strategy employed at our place.

So it was that the Patience Cat became a teenager. The intersection of safety with dependable continuity from day to day allows one to spread their wings. The Patience Cat found this to be true for her. The unruliness and demands of a teenager manifested in her every action. The quirks this girl displays make for regular conversation fodder around the house. Which for context I must say is a house inhabited by three men two teenagers and yours truly.

This kitty girl, with all her issues, is a gift to us. For one thing she is a lovely little soul. On top of that, her style of interaction provides a constant reminder that patience is a choice. Patience was in short supply in the halls where I dwelled during my early years. So it is I imagine in most households featuring young, busy parents and challenging offspring.  Though I was first born, and therefore not classified as a runt by traditional definition, I was not remotely familiar with golden child status, nor accustomed to patience as a guiding hand during my assent to adulthood, (an assent which I’m not sure I’ve completed). The apple, as they say, does not fall far from the tree, unless a benevolent tornado has been involved in logistical reassignment proceedings. As a result, the expression “patience is a virtue” comes to mind in no small way on a daily basis for me. The Patience Cat then has become something of a guide, a guardian angel if you will, to remind me of my choice to be accepting of others. In particular, she has reminded me to make space for those who, by no fault, or choosing of their own, do shit that makes me want to go volcanic!

Do you remember that kid in school who tried way too hard to get attention? Everybody shunned that poor desperate bastard or bastardette right? That’s the Patience Cat! Working at the laptop, perched on the couch with a cocktail, I’ll be intensely focused on a project. Then here she comes, sliding her dripping, enthusiastic nose across my arm, ensuring a typo as she works her way toward obscuring my view of the screen. Even now as I am typing this piece, she has been nudging and nuzzling my arm with that running nose to the damp tune of a multitude of “red underlined” typos. Ugh! But wait, she just wants connection. That’s not a crime. So I have to take a breath and chill, in lieu of my automatic response which would be to escort her from the couch physically, possibly to a neighboring county. Yes, I can be an insensitive ass. The boys, who have had similar experiences, find her to be equally intrusive and disruptive. We discuss it, regularly. Good for her though, we ultimately decide, grudgingly. She goes for what she wants. Plenty of humans never find the courage to quest for the fulfillment of their needs. Again, the Patience Cat is a guide, a role model even.

Though she can be trying on multiple levels, she is family. The name Patience Cat, which I might add, is her most flattering nickname to date, arose from her curious behavior at the threshold of our patio door. It was late December, the temperature hovering at 7º. She wanted to go outside, sort of. She meowed at the door; I opened it wide offering unobstructed passage. She backed up, timid, uncertain. Confused, I closed the door. She again meowed and approached the door. Once more I pulled the door open allowing the winter chill to wither the already wilting kitchen. Again she backed up and declined the offer. This time I Thought, “well what the fuck cat?” Then it dawned on me; she has an issue with crossing the threshold. Perhaps she’d been hit in the ass by that door at some point on her proverbial “way out.” Not on my watch, but we have had cat sitters while on vacation. Hmmm? I mustered a patience flame from deep within. Standing there freezing my ass off, while hundreds of dollars of central heat poured into the leafless, frigid backyard I waited.

I spoke gently to her, assuring her that she could exit safely, and would be let back in should she change her mind. She looked at me as if to say, “I don’t speak English, you silly fuck!” I stood still, recognizing at that moment the opportunity to undo a lifetime of patience-less perspective. Slowly she moved, one tiny, cautious step at a time across that insanely hideous greenish plaid-ish linoleum toward the doorway. Minutes passed, hours, days, lifetimes. Suddenly she rushed the door. As she approached the threshold, she leaped several feet in the air kicking her hide quarters to the side like a freestyle motocross rider and flew out into the winter night.

Stunned, I watched her dash across the frozen grass, then realizing my shiver along with the icicles forming on my eyelashes, closed the door. Click went the latch. There in that dark, cold, horribly neglected 1950’s kitchen I stood stone still. Moments passed. A smile slowly crossed my lips; then laughter burst from me. The Patience Cat, the smallest and least likely to survive had delivered a late Christmas present. Patience grew where once there was none. It is a choice that can manifest, a gift, a survivable option for one to whom it had formerly been no more than a myth. Who knew?

 

PostScript:

If you’re still stuck on the 7º bit, fear not.  I did a lap or two around the house turning off lights and saying good nights, returned to the kitchen, and called the little girl in.

Apologies

Im sorry

Apologies. I’m guessing I haven’t offered enough of them in my lifetime.  Neither I’m sure, have I received some that might have been deserved, but that bit is beyond my control.  “Deserve’s got nothing to do with,”  or so I’ve heard Clint Eastwood say, and so I’ll leave that be for now.  Apologizing is the most potent acts of healing in the human relational inventory.  A heartfelt apology can repair seemingly permanent damage.  The act can even spark the rebuilding of ostensibly terminal relationships.  Apologizing is a two-way wonder drug.  So why is it that when it’s needed most this seemingly simple choice can appear so utterly unavailable to us?

Hello Ego!  The pride-o-meter sits pinned at eleven.  “Sorry?” I spit.  “Ha, I’m not sorry, I’m fucking pissed!”  Sound familiar?  “It’s they, not I who should be asking for forgiveness.”  Here I am once again, facing a barricade I’ve built obstructing the pathway to reconciliation and so created the need for the other person’s permission to move forward.  Waiting for an apology is just that, waiting.  Waiting in lieu of acting, of taking the chance, of creating an opportunity for resolution.  

Pride is a fickle mistress.  It can afford us the intense bravado needed to inflate our personal myth of invincibility, which in a fight or flight situation can be useful.  However, when the peak intensity of such an engagement subsides, we are left with the stance we took based on pride, not on love.  “Love,” where did that come from?  Hmmm, from the idea that if we truly want peace, we have to choose it.  Peace is my favorite, but clearly not a universal choice for ‘state of being.’  Have you ever apologized to someone only to find that the words had no effect on them?  Come to understand that your act of contrition bore no fruit in your effort to create healing?  Me too!  Some people thrive on conflict, and that is either a nature, nurture or both thing, over which we have no power other than a heartfelt, “ugh!”

Sometimes offering an apology is not a practical option.  In such downward spiraling relationships, we may find the right answer to be ‘cut and run.’  Sometimes we have to let things go.  The real challenge lies in determining, and owning the difference between circumstances beyond our control, i.e., dealing with an ‘unreasonable’ person, and situations in which we have been party to the wrongs that might well be righted by a diminishment of our own ego posturing.  Difficult yes, but not insurmountable.  It is painful to think about lost friendships or loves that might have been saved by an apology.  Could they still be?

These days I find myself apologizing rather frequently; though I’m sure I still miss some prime opportunities to take responsibility.  I say “I’m sorry” to my sons when I’ve wrapped up a solid performance of being less than the father I’d like to be.  I can see in their eyes that it lands, and moves them.  Perhaps, more importantly, it may someday help them with the task of owing their own spells of less than stellar behavior.  Hopefully, it will instill in them the notion that choosing to initiate the making of amends is not an act of weakness.  Rather, it is an act of strength, or so I believe, survivable and often enriching.

Heartfelt apologies spring from a bottomless well within us.  They are an infinitely renewable resource.  The courage to make the first move of reparations may be buried deep.  At times it may seem utterly impossible to grasp.  Even so, I believe it is always worth the reach.

 

Free Fall

Free Fall JH 2

“What do you mean ‘bad’?” I asked.

“I think it’s self-explanatory.” He said.

“Nice bedside manner doc!”

He reached into his lab coat and produced a flask and two plastic shot glasses, “Cheers!”

“Ha, we’re celebrating my terminal diagnosis?” I said with a hastily shaken tone cocktail of irony, indignation and false bravery.

“We all have a terminal diagnosis, my friend.  I love you, and this shot is to celebrate your life.  The life behind you, that left before you, and most importantly this moment, when we here together face the inevitable; the heartache, the confusion, the freedom, and the truth, that we all try so desperately to ignore.”

I found myself smiling in spite of the dour news, “I love you, man.”

Doctor James had been my college roommate freshman year, and my best friend for the last thirty years of my now seemingly bookended life.  Together we had surfed the waves off the Santa Barbara coast, chased the same woman at parties and fought over the outcome, ridden a motorcycle through the courtyard of a dormitory with frantic RAs chasing us.  This was the man who knew me better than anyone on the planet.  He had supported me every step of the way.  He knew when to say “I’m sorry,” and he knew how to forgive.  He was the perfect person the usher me onto the crowded tarmac for those awaiting passage to the hereafter.

“So by ‘no’ you mean there’s no cure?” I asked.

He looked me in the eye, raised his plastic shot glass to offer a toast, I obliged with a shaky reciprocal gesture.

“There is only one cure for life, and as mortals, we will all one day be cured.  May you rock the fuck out of the days, months, or years left to you.  May you know that I love you like a brother with all my heart and will ride this last wave with you wherever it may take us.”  He held his glass and my gaze.

Damn him; the fucking bitch made me tear up.  I killed the shot and immediately put my cup out for a second.

“How long?” I asked.

“I don’t fucking know…six months, six years, it’s so fucking random.  Let’s see, no sugar diets, kale, and on the uh-oh side, hidden guilt, self-hatred, or an emerging heretofore unseen badass extreme will to live.  I could tell you some number, but then that number enters your reality and who the fuck am I to shape your perspective on something like this?  I’m just a doctor.”  James laughed as he filled our little plastic shot cups.

“Let’s go to the mountains and hike.” He said.  “I’ll clear my schedule; we’ll go to my place in the Sierras, spend a couple of days and let this percolate.”

“Are you coming on to me?”  My super thin, false bravado wavering.

“Ha, fuck you, I’ll bring coffee, be ready by 8 am.”  Doctor J. hissed with a shit-eating grin.

“Thanks?”  I had to laugh.  Hiking would be good!

#fiction

Have thoughts on the subject?  Please comment.  Life is bigger and better with shared experience!